Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What is love?

Love is a tricky – and sticky – emotion that does everything from creating bliss to confusion and even anger. And when we lose love, the sorrow can be overwhelming. It is one of the sources of dukkha that the Buddha talked about: we fear separation from the beloved.

From the Sammaditthi Sutta:

“And what is stress? Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; not getting what one wants is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful. This is called stress.”

And from the Maha-parinibbana Sutta:

“Yet, Ananda, have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change, separation, and severance?”

The entire Piyajatika Sutta is about this, describing how it is the people we love and care about that are the primary source of our sorrow because any change in them, their loss, or even just the thought of losing them, causes distress.

I have been reading the Lotus Sutra, which has a really quite amazing chapter in it regarding love called “Belief and Understanding,” also known as the “Parable of the Destitute Son.”

The Cliff Notes version of this chapter is a wealthy man loses his son while his son is still a very young man. The son abandons the family to wander about, eventually running out of luck to wind up living destitute. The father gave up searching for him and settled in a town where the father became enormously successful in business – so successful that even the heads of government paid homage to him. Fifty years after his son disappears, the son returns, although he cannot remember who his father is or what he looks like. He sees this rich man and thinks he’d better leave or someone might think he’s trying to steal something. The son attempts to sneak away, but his father sees him and recognizes him. He sends out servants to stop his son, but the son becomes so frightened, thinking that he’s being accused of stealing, that he passes out from fear.

The father realizes that his son has lived for so long away from home, and has lived such a hard life, that the son would never believe that he was heir to this rich man. So when the son wakens, the father tells him he is free to go. This overwhelms the son with joy, that he isn’t going to be imprisoned and falsely accused. The father then sets out to slowly express his love, first by showing the son compassion, offering him a menial job of sweeping dung, providing him with very basic housing. Over time, the son comes to trust and respect his father, but refuses to come live within the household, staying instead in his tiny hut. But after 20 years, the son’s responsibilities have been elevated to the point that he is then tasked with taking an accounting of his father’s wealth without any supervision. The son honors the task and takes an honest accounting, not stealing anything. Then just before the father dies, he reveals to everyone that this ragged man is in fact his son and shall inherit all his wealth. At this time, the son is ready to recognize his true father and accept the love that he’s offered him all along.

This is a really powerful parable for me because it shows so well how someone with such deep love for another can have the resolve and the patience to express it, to do so without pressure, without clinging, by leaving the object of that love – the man’s son in this case – completely free. It is very difficult to love someone in this manner, but it is the only true way to love someone.

I would like to thank my friend Jimmy Huang for the image posted with this blog. He has an amazing eye for photography and he has graciously granted me permission to use his photos from time to time.

1 comment:

  1. it certainly is a gooey mess if there is icky attachment involved. i guess it could be expressed as a mathematical formula:
    love = caring - clinging

    meh...i suck at math, prolly why i'm single